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Publication Details

Reference
Bond, Patrick (2002) The Wehab Challenge (for South Africa).  : -.

Summary
Is South Africa fit to host the World Summit on Sustainable Development? The problems associated with Pretoria's own unsustainable development trajectory are evident in the five areas upon which UN secretary general Kofi Annan places greatest emphasis.

Annan's five key issues for WSSD progress--Water/sanitation, Energy, Health, Agriculture and Biodiversity, or `Wehab'--will be highlighted in the Johannesburg Political Declaration. According to Annan, the WSSD should adopt the following objectives:

Water. Provide access to at least one billion people who lack clean drinking water and two billion people who lack proper sanitation.
Energy. Provide access to more than two billion people who lack modern energy services; promote renewable energy; reduce over-consumption; and ratify the Kyoto Protocol to address climate change. We need to make clean energy supplies accessible and affordable. We need to increase the use of renewable energy sources and improve energy efficiency. And we must not flinch from addressing the issue of over consumption--the fact that people in the developed countries use far more energy per capita than those in the developing world.
Health. Address the effects of toxic and hazardous materials; reduce air pollution, which kills three million people each year, and lower the incidence of malaria and African guinea worm, which are linked with polluted water and poor sanitation. The links between the environment and human health are powerful. Toxic chemicals and other hazardous materials are basic elements of development. Yet more than one billion people breathe unhealthy air, and three million people die each year from air pollution--two thirds of them poor people, mostly women and children, who die from indoor pollution caused by burning wood and dung. Tropical diseases are closely linked with polluted water sources and poor sanitation. Conventions and other steps aimed at reducing waste and eliminating the use of certain chemicals and substances can go a long way to creating a healthier environment.
Agricultural productivity. Work to reverse land degradation, which affects about two-thirds of the world's agricultural lands. As a result, agricultural productivity is declining sharply, while the number of mouths to feed continues to grow. In Africa, especially, millions of people are threatened with starvation. We must increase agricultural productivity, and reverse human encroachment on forests, grasslands and wetlands.
Biodiversity and ecosystem management. Reverse the processes that have destroyed about half of the world's tropical rainforest and mangroves, and are threatening 70% of the world's coral reefs and decimating the world's fisheries. About 75% of marine fisheries have been fished to capacity. 70% of coral reefs are endangered. We must reverse this process--preserving as many species as possible, and clamping down on illegal and unsustainable fishing and logging practices--while helping people who currently depend on such activities to make a transition to more sustainable ways of earning their living.

In the Bali chair's text, however, virtually all the detailed provisions are vague, lack specific targets and timeframes, and thus demonstrate that the elites have no desire to overcome financial constraints that are the inevitable barrier to poor people's access to water, energy, healthcare, land and the preservation of species. Recognising the likelihood of failure and delegitimisation, South African government leaders unsuccessfully attempted--at Bali and in a special UN-hosted session in July under Mbeki's direction--to pull together the divergent elite approaches. Mbeki's gambit included alliance building through a `Friends of the Chair' technique that took on a terrible force--comparable to what journalist Alexander Cockburn calls `coerced harmony'--at the Doha WTO meeting. South Africa's friends for the WSSD were Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Russian Federation, Senegal, Sweden, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States and Venezuela.

In view of this kind of leadership role, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves of the unsatisfactory South African stance on these issues. Pretoria has addressed environment and development with a combination of excellent constitutional guarantees and political campaign promises on the one hand, but neoliberal policy and excessively market-oriented programmes and projects on the other. We can focus on these elements of Wehab, noting the WSSD's rhetorical commitments, and then summarising South Africa's post-1994 weaknesses.

First, in relation to water, the trends in virtually all countries point towards the commodification and privatisation of water. The UN amplifies the trends by promoting public-private partnerships (the preferred euphemism for privatisation), albeit momentarily disguised through ambitious promises of improved access to water/sanitation:

8. Launch an action programme, with financial and technical assistance from developed countries, to halve by 2015 the proportion of people lacking access to improved sanitation, through the development and implementation of efficient sanitation systems and infrastructure while safeguarding human health.
22. Achieve the UN Millennium Declaration goal to halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of people who are unable to reach or afford safe drinking water...
23. Support developing countries in developing integrated water resources management and water efficiency plans by 2005... Facilitate the establishment of public-private partnerships by providing stable and transparent regulatory frameworks, involving all concerned stakeholders, and monitoring the performance and improving accountability of public institutions and private companies.

That paragraph 23 will cancel out paragraphs 8 and 22, due to the need to realise a large profit margin in water/sanitation distribution, goes unremarked upon. Likewise, as discussed in Chapters Three-Five, Pretoria has come under sustained criticism for its water policies, with respect to:

failure to enforce the Constitutional right to water, and the granting of permission to municipal and catchment-area water managers to engage in life-threatening cut-offs (10 million people affected according to a 2001 survey);
failure to make good on promises of a free lifeline supply, and failure to define the supply so that people receive 60 liters of water per person per day;
failure to provide sufficient subsidies to run rural water programmes and projects where municipal support is not yet in place, because of the refusal to define lifeline as free in a 1994 White Paper;
failure to deliver emergency water in cholera-stricken areas;
failure to deliver sanitation due to excessive emphasis on cost recovery;
failure to consider the overall costs of construction of mega-dams (as an alleged supply-side solution to water scarcity in the largest cities, instead of demand-side management), and failure to ensure dam safety especially in relation to the flooding affecting Mozambique in 2000-01;
failure to redistribute water resources enjoyed below-cost, due to apartheid subsidies, by white farmers;
failure to regulate and where necessary halt destructive water use by forestry plantations; and
failure to prevent water pollution by TNCs (especially in the mining/metals and agricultural sectors).

The same pro-privatisation tendencies can be uncovered in the energy sector. The WSSD chair's text includes four key paragraphs, each with various detailed optional provisions for implementing programmes:

9. Launch an action programme to reduce by half the number of people who currently lack access to modern energy services.
14. Increase investment in cleaner production and eco-efficiency in all countries through incentives and support schemes.
17. Promote the implementation of the recommendations and conclusions of the ninth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-9) on energy for sustainable development relevant to the respective domestic situations, bearing in mind the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, and taking into account that energy is central to achieving the goals of sustainable development... Promote international public-private partnership cooperation programmes for promoting affordable, energy efficient and advanced fossil fuel and renewable energy technologies.
18. Promote an integrated approach to policy making at national and regional levels for transport services... with a view to providing efficient transportation, reducing energy consumption and pollution.

Amidst the innocuous chatter, the third of these provisions is dangerous. Public-private partnerships introduce the profit motive in a manner that invariably puts pressure on low-income people to drop out of the system. The South African electricity sector has provided more than two million new household electricity connections since the early 1990s and is beginning to adopt the free lifeline mandate for electricity. Nevertheless, Pretoria is extremely vulnerable on energy policies because of multiple shortcomings:

failure to provide a sustainable, affordable supply of electricity to low-income households, with sufficient ampage to allow substitution for traditional cooking fuels;
failure to prevent the move (indicated in the 1998 White Paper) towards `cost-reflective' tariffs imposed by both Eskom and municipalities, even though these prevent cross-subsidies and discount the incorporation of social and environmental costs of maldistributed energy;
failure to prevent the cut-offs of low-income households from their electricity supplies (with 10 million people affected, according to a 2001 national survey), and especially failure to prevent Eskom's 20,000 cut-offs per month in Soweto until forced to by community pressure;
failure to develop more creative biomass, wind and solar sources;
failure to recognise the unsustainability of nuclear energy;
failure to promote conservation, including more energy-efficient methods of production, transport and consumption;
failure to wean SA industry (and other government departments) off greenhouse-gas emitting, electricity-intensive (and capital-intensive) production, such as metals smelting;
failure to overcome the mistaken notion that cheap electricity will attract foreign direct investment;
failure to address problems in utilisation and distribution of liquid fuels, including the lack of safe public rail and bus transport to cut emissions.

In the field of health, the chair's text includes five key paragraphs:

43. The Rio Declaration states that human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development, and that they are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature. The goals of sustainable development can only be achieved in the absence of a high prevalence of debilitating illnesses while population health requires poverty eradication. There is an urgent need to address the causes of ill health and their impact on development, with particular emphasis on women and children, as well as other vulnerable groups of society such as people with disabilities, elderly persons, and indigenous people.
44. Strengthen the capacity of healthcare systems to deliver basic health services to all in an efficient, accessible and affordable manner aimed at preventing, controlling and treating diseases and to reduce environmental health threats...
45. Combat HIV/Aids by reducing HIV infection rates by 25% by 2005 in the most affected countries and globally by 2010, as well as combat Malaria, TB and other diseases...
46. Reduce respiratory diseases and other health impacts resulting from air pollution, including from some traditional cooking and heating practices, with particular attention to women and children who are most exposed to indoor air pollution by: (a) Strengthening regional and national programmes, including through public/private partnerships...
47. Implement the commitments and objectives contained in the Declaration on the Trips Agreement and Public Health adopted at Doha in a manner supportive of the protection of public health and of the promotion of access to medicines for all, while recognising the gravity of the public health problems afflicting many developing and least developed countries, especially those resulting from HIV/Aids, tuberculosis, malaria and other epidemics.

Without doubt, these would be helpful steps. There are, however, insufficient commitments to funding, while problems associated with privatisation and cost-recovery policies imposed by the World Bank and IMF are ignored. Likewise, critics have berated Pretoria for various health policies:

failure to address Aids crisis by providing clear health education on viral nature of the infection, and instead resorting to Aids-denialist arguments;
failure to provide anti-retroviral (ARV) Aids medicines, especially in the wake of the mid-April Cabinet commitment that allegedly allows access to pregnant women and rape survivors (a position that has been considered appropriate and feasible by the state since 1994);
failure to investigate and plan for the provision of ARVs for the five million South Africans who are HIV+;
failure to take advantage of 1997 Medicines Act and international trade provisions that allow production of generic ARVs or parallel import of ARVs;
failure to ensure sufficient funding for the rest of the public health system, including free primary healthcare for all and maintenance of some vitally-needed tertiary facilities, as promised in 1996;
failure to sufficiently regulate the medical schemes, private (for-profit) health care providers, and managed care initiatives;
failure to prevent the departure of health personnel;
failure to address the health-impairing policies of other government departments (especially water, energy and housing); and
failure to build sufficient clinics in underserved areas or provide Essential Drugs List medicines.

With regard to agriculture, the chair's text includes a key paragraph providing for the `right to food' and other progressive language. But there are, in the text, no serious means of implementing or enforcement, aside from the dangerous `market-based incentives... to monitor and manage water use and quality':

35. Agriculture plays a crucial role in addressing the needs of a growing global population, and is inextricably linked to poverty eradication, especially in developing countries. Sustainable agriculture and rural development (SARD) is essential to the implementation of an integrated approach to increasing food production and enhancing food security and food safety in an environmentally sustainable way.

Pretoria has weak agriculture and land policies, in the following respects:

failure to redistribute more than a tiny fraction (less than 2%) of arable land, notwithstanding a 1994 campaign promise to have distributed 30% by 1999;
failure to restitute more than a small percentage of land stolen by the white apartheid regime in living memory;
failure to provide sufficient technical support--irrigation, cultivation assistance, appropriate fertilisers and pesticides, credit, marketing--to emergent small black farmers;
failure to provide food security for all South Africans (including price controls and state production of basic foodstuffs during times of food-price inflation); and
failure to penalise the unsustainable land utilisation and agricultural practices of large farmers, including corporations.

On biodiversity, the chair's text includes a key paragraph, but conspicuously fails to mention the Biosafety Protocol:

39. Biodiversity plays a critical role in overall sustainable development and is essential to our planet and human well being and is being lost at unprecedented rates due to human activities. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is the key instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and to put in place by 2010 measures to halt biodiversity loss at the global, regional, sub-regional and national levels requires actions at all levels.

Pretoria's biodiversity policies are also inadequate, with respect to:

failure to prohibit or even regulate Genetically Modified Organisms and Genetic Engineering in relation especially to foodstuffs;
failure to protect South Africa from biopiracy; and
failure to utilise the Doha WTO Summit, to support calls from many developing countries in the Like Minded Group and Development Box group.

Could a stronger chair's text have been drafted going into Johannesburg? Given the bloodyminded character of US rulers, Washington's reaction to a more rights-based, less corporate-centred strategy might have been yet another walkout. Would that have mattered? It is hard to say, because the experience since Rio is that no matter how many high-minded provisions are included in UN conference resolutions, the real test is whether national-level democracy is sufficiently advanced to make the promises stick.

In turn, achieving such democracy far transcends even the obvious challenges of electoral fairplay, which Bush's gang has already shown scant regard for, as witnessed by the disenfranchisement of 100,000 African-American voters in Florida. Building a more genuine movement for sustainable development requires, firstly, stronger impulses towards environmental, social and economic justice in each country; and then, the emergence of an interlinked political narrative that draws together justice and sustainable development discourses into a formidable Left front.

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